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2003–04 Indonesian offensive in Aceh

The 2003–2004 Indonesian offensive in Aceh against the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatists was launched on May 19, 2003, and lasted nearly one year. It followed a two-week ultimatum to GAM to accept special autonomy under Indonesian rule. It was one of the Indonesian military's largest campaigns since the 1975 invasion of East Timor. It severely disabled the rebel movement, and along with the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake brought the 30-year conflict in Aceh to an end.

2003–2004 Indonesian offensive in Aceh
Part of the Insurgency in Aceh (1976–2005)
Location of Aceh in Indonesia
DateMay 19, 2003 – May 13, 2004
Result Decisive Indonesian victory
 Indonesia Flag of Free Aceh Movement.svg Free Aceh Movement
Commanders and leaders
Indonesia Megawati Soekarnoputri
Indonesia Endriartono Sutarto
Flag of Free Aceh Movement.svg Hasan di Tiro
Flag of Free Aceh Movement.svg Muzakkir Manaf
42,000[1] 5,000[2]
Casualties and losses
approximately 2000 rebel fighters killed[3]



On 28 April 2003, the Indonesian government issued an ultimatum to end the fighting and accept special autonomy for Aceh within two weeks. Free Aceh Movement (GAM) leaders based in Sweden refused the ultimatum, but the United States, Japan, and the European Union urged both sides to avoid armed conflict and resume peace talks in Tokyo. On May 16, 2003, the government stated that the offer of autonomy was the final concession it would make to GAM, and the rejection of the ultimatum would lead to military operations against the movement. GAM leaders and negotiators responded to this demand, and stated that its members in Aceh had been arrested while trying to leave for Tokyo.[citation needed]

Military operationsEdit

After midnight on May 18, 2003, President Megawati Sukarnoputri gave the 12th Indonesian Military Chief, General Endriartono Sutarto, permission to commence military operations against the separatists. General Sutarto also imposed martial law in Aceh for a period of six months and the Indonesian government subsequently deployed 1,500 soldiers and 12,000 police to the province. This included a parachute landing by 458 paratroopers near Aceh airport.[4][5]

In June 2003, the government announced their intention to print a new ID card to distinguish all the people in Aceh from the rebels. NGOs and aid agencies were ordered to stop operations and leave the area and the government decreed that all assistance had to be coordinated through the government in Jakarta and the Indonesian Red Cross.[citation needed]

In May 2004, martial law in Aceh came to an end and the status of the conflict was downgraded to a civil emergency. Indonesian Coordinating Minister ad interim Hari Sabarno announced the change after a cabinet meeting on May 13, 2004. The government announced that they had made significant progress, and that during the operation thousands of GAM members had been killed, captured and surrendered.[citation needed]

Although martial law had been suspended, the military operations being conducted by the military continued. An estimated 2,000 people were killed during the fighting. According to Indonesian military sources, the majority of victims were soldiers, but international human rights groups and locals, including the government's human rights commission, claim that most of the victims were civilians. Evidence suggests that the military often does not distinguish between combatants, and non-combatants. Investigations also found GAM were responsible for the atrocities that occurred in Aceh.[citation needed]

Acehnese refugees in Malaysia have reported widespread abuses in Aceh, which was closed to observers during the military operation. The trial of members of the Indonesian military is considered difficult,[clarification needed] and trials that have occurred have only involved low-ranking soldiers.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "People's Daily Online -- Chronology of important events in Indonesia's Aceh". Retrieved 26 August 2018.
  2. ^ "Indonesia: Refugees Reveal Widespread Abuses in Aceh (Human Rights Watch, 18-12-2003)". Retrieved 26 August 2018.
  3. ^ "KAIROS-Conflict in Aceh". Archived from the original on 28 October 2008. Retrieved 3 September 2014.
  4. ^ "Indonesia Goes After Aceh Rebels". Retrieved 26 August 2018.
  5. ^ Press, The Associated. "Major Military Attack Unfolds Against Rebels in Indonesia". Retrieved 26 August 2018.

External linksEdit